Imagining D.C. Under a Modified Height Act
The second half of the Height Act study conducted jointly by the city and the National Capital Planning Commission is officially underway. And it just got a whole lot more fun.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman from California who's become D.C.'s surprising best friend on Capitol Hill, asked the city and the NCPC to conduct a review of the 103-year-old Height of Buildings Act in November, with a deadline of this fall. Phase 1 of the study involved background research and identifying the local and federal interests. Phase 2 concerns economic impact and visual modeling.
So let's get modeling. At a meeting this morning at the NCPC, the presenters laid out four possible approaches to modifying the Height Act, which currently limits heights to the width of the street plus 20 feet, with a cap of 90 feet on residential streets and 130 feet on most commercial streets. (These heights can be further restricted by zoning.) Here's a map of the current height limits in the city:
The first approach considered by the NCPC and the Office of Planning is not to change the Height Act at all—or just to tinker with the regulations for mechanical penthouses. The second is change the street-to-height relationship, so that buildings on certain streets can have more height relative to the width of the street. The third is to raise height limits in selected areas. And the fourth is to raise height limits citywide.
What do these look like? Approach #1 doesn't involve much of a change. Approach #2 could involve changes to certain streets that would look like this:
Approach #3 was broken into three options. The first is to raise height limits just within the L'Enfant City—the original planned city, south of Florida Avenue and west of the Anacostia River. Here's what that would look like from two vantage points (click to enlarge):
The second is to raise height limits just outside the L'Enfant City, on the edge of the "topographic bowl" that encompasses central D.C. From two vantage points in Virginia:
The final option is to raise heights in selected clusters, including Farragut Square, Waterfront Station, Buzzard Point, Poplar Point, Congress Heights, Friendship Heights, and around the corners of M and 22nd streets NW and K and 5th streets NW:
Finally, the third approach is to raise height limits citywide. This would have the most dramatic effect (and drew the most groans and shaking heads from this morning's audience):
Now, even in this most dramatic option, the Washington Monument still dominates the skyline, though other landmarks like the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial become harder to see. That's partly because the highest option considered only goes up to 200 feet within the L'Enfant City. And it's partly because the model only raises up buildings in these high- and medium-density areas:
What do you think? Which of these options is the best for D.C.? And—at least as relevant—which will the city, the NCPC, and Congress go for?